EURO 2012 Final: Spain's Pulsating Beauty Proves They're The G.O.A.T

Derided as boring in some quarters and panned for not using a striker, Spain destroyed Italy 4-0 in Kiev last night and can happily stick two-fingers up to the detractors...
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Derided as boring in some quarters and panned for not using a striker, Spain destroyed Italy 4-0 in Kiev last night and can happily stick two-fingers up to the detractors...

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EURO 2012 Final: Spain's Pulsating Beauty Proves They're The G.O.A.T

“Spain are boring!”

“That makes you boring!”

“Stop saying boring! It’s boring.”

Enough already!  The argumentative fury has drained the fun out of watching them play. Football is about fun. It’s about a love for a game. No childhood imaginations were ever stirred by tireless twitter debates. Last night Spain reminded us of that very fact in scintillating fashion.

It was the performance we were waiting for. Forceful and fearless, Spain played with an unnerving single-mindedness to win. Xavi had spoken before the game of his hope that his team would be “more decisive.” His team-mates had clearly been listening. From kick-off Spain looked to penetrate the Italian defence. It only took them 14 minutes. Cesc Fabregas determinedly drove to the byline before an incisive pull-back found David Silva’s head. 1 -0.

A new found urgency was present in this Spain side. There was no time for dilly dallying, history was to be made. There was a difference about this Spain performance. There were not as many lengthy spells of possession as we have become used to, less sustained periods of short interchanges on the edge of the opponents box. Indeed, Jordi Alba’s crucial goal came from a move involving just four passes, instigated by a long ball from Iker Casillas. Xavi’s assist was not a deft flick on the edge of the box but instead a visionary through ball made just beyond the centre circle.

Yet where uncertainties  and debates were dismissed, intrigues and curiosities arose. Will the Spanish now embrace this style that thrilled the world last night? Spain are nearly always beautiful to watch, yet that beauty has often been patient and subtle, almost hidden. Their beauty last night was of a different kind; pulsating and obvious, unclothed for all to admire. When their centre-back Sergio Ramos nearly added a fifth with a back-heel at the death, it was almost gratuitous. It was a heart-racing display that has left its audience eager for more.

There is no longer a place for questioning, no room for doubts. All have been answered. Undoubtedly the greatest team of a generation, perhaps of all time

Spain did not beat Italy through an attritional possession dominance. Unlike countless other victims, Italy were not passed to death by Spain. At half-time the possession percentages remained equal, despite the difference in scoreline. By the end of the game, after Italy had struggled for half an hour with ten men, those percentages had only slightly altered, with Spain having 57%.

This isn’t the Spain we had gotten used to. In their previous game they had against Portugal they had 64% possession, in the match prior to that against France they had 60%. Their average possession throughout the tournament was 65 % possession. Perhaps even more peculiar was the fact that Italy very nearly matched Spain’s other key statistics. Spain’s 88% pass accuracy was only 6% better than Italy’s while their 14 shots only just bettered Italy’s 11.

These statistics would suggest that Spain had then not played well in the final, perhaps their performance had dropped from previous games and they were lucky to win by such a margin. Yet, of course, to everyone who actually saw the game, Spain were sensational in the final. It was a marked change from their preceding performances. In the run up to the final Spain had been good, if not a little disappointing. They had topped their group, seen off France and Portugal yet something seemed missing. This was the reigning European and World champions yet for large periods of games Spain often looked laborious, out of ideas and (whisper it) ineffective. When they were good, they were good and every game had its fair share of spectacular Spanish moments. Yet against Portugal they were reliant on penalties, against Croatia they were saved by some profligate finishing. Not once did they look like champions for the entire ninety minutes. Not until last night.

One game, however, cannot dissect four years’ good work. Yes, Spain were laborious and slow in patches throughout the tournament but they never lost. Their hard-fought victories over Croatia and Portugal may not have been thrilling, but they were victories nonetheless. Only in the anomaly of their match against Switzerland at the World Cup has tiki-taka failed them on the major stage.

So it’s probably safe to say that tiki-taka will remain. Spain are unlikely to turn their back on the philosophy that has led them to a staggering three major trophies in a row. Over the last four years Spain have been totally unequalled by any other side. There is no longer a place for questioning, no room for doubts. All have been answered. Undoubtedly the greatest team of a generation, perhaps of all time.

However Spain decide to dress up for the party in Brazil in 2014, we will have to wait and see. What is certain is that once again they will be a force and once again they will be a delight to watch. What a relief that the debates will now be well and truly put to bed. We can look forward to 2014 with relish and the prospect of four trophies back to back. Would you bet against it?

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